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Cooking with Banana Plant

Cooking with Banana Plant

(Musa spp.) A banana plant is used for more than just its fruit. Its flowers, leaves and trunk are also important in the cuisines of some Asian and Pacific countries. In Sri Lanka, the skins of green plantains are also used to make a taste accompaniment.

The heart of the main stem is featured in more than one South East Asian dish and notably the national dish of Burma, a spicy fish soup called Moh Hin Gha. It is also used in a Balinese chicken soup with different spicing and stock instead of coconut milk. The tender inner portion of the trunk is eaten in Thailand, either boiled and dipped in nam prik or cooked in curries.

The word 'trunk' implies a tree, but botanically speaking the banana is a giant herb. What makes the upright stem is actually the thick, overlapping bases of the leaves. Although not strictly accurate, the term 'trunk' does help identify which part of the plant provides the ingredient.

In the islands of the Pacific the outer layers of banana trunk are used as dishes. Thick enough to be rigid, the surface smooth and waterproof, and the shape curved so they can hold even a dish with gravy, they make great disposable dinnerware.

Another useful part of the banana plant is the leaves. In southern India they are used as plates, and for this the middle rib is retained. In almost every Asian country, the leaves are used as a wrapping for food to be cooked or deftly shaped into dainty serving cups or cones or square containers. For this purpose the thick mid-rib is discarded after cutting off the flexible leaf. A piece of banana leaf with its naturally smooth surface takes the place of grease-proof paper or foil for smoothing the top of sweet-meats, rice cooked in coconut milk, and other dishes.

The traditional Sir Lankan meal of Lampries (parcels of fragrant rice, curries and accompaniments wrapped in a banana leaf and baked) would lack a vital flavor component were the banana leaf to be omitted. Before using fresh banana leaf as a wrapping, pass over a flame to soften and make it flexible. Alternatively, blanch in boiling water for a few seconds. This renders the leaves pliable for easier handling.

Once a banana plant has borne fruit, it has outlived its usefulness. This is the perfect time to harvest it. The rhizome sends up suckers to replace the parent plant and , in this way, a banana can continue to produce for up to 60 years from the original rhizome. Before the heart can be cooked or eaten, the outer layers are discarded and the tender innermost portion sliced and soaked in a basin of salted water for several hours. This procedure draws the sap into strands which can be easily pulled away. When cutting down banana saplings, wear old clothes and gloves as the sap is fiendishly sticky and staining.

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